Severe weather warnings should be taken seriosly

Monday, March 19, 2012

Officials have to strike a balancing act when it comes to scheduling Nebraska Severe Weather Awareness Week.

On the one hand, they want to schedule the observance close enough to stormy summer weather so we have the lessons in mind when the actual storms strike.

On the other, they hope to schedule a weather drill during a time when there isn't any actual severe weather.

They might think about moving it up another week or two.

This week is Severe Weather Awareness Week in Nebraska, but our neighbors to the north didn't wait for the official observance.

A couple of tornadoes damaged or destroyed several homes, trapping at least one person for a while and tipping over cars at the big Union Pacific yards on the west side of North Platte. Another cell spawned tornadoes that did damage near Valentine and on into South Dakota.

As part of the weather awareness week, a drill has been set between 10 and 11 a.m. CDT Wednesday, provided there isn't any real severe weather in the area during that time.

AccuWeather.com notes that experts recommend seeking shelter in basements or interior, above-ground rooms, to below in the basement, but there are pro's and con's to each of these options.

While an above-ground safe room, with extra structure and less exposure to the roof area, is better than nothing, it's still vulnerable to large, heavy airborne objects like a vehicle, in the event of an EF-4 or EF-5 twister.

Even in the basement, it's important to get under sturdy furniture or a stairwell, according to Michael R. Smith of AccuWeather.com.

Studies show that when much of the home has been destroyed, often the only surviving part of the dwelling is a small interior room as as a closet or bathroom. In strong tornadoes, the entire roof and upper floors are often removed from the dwelling, which leaves the wall vulnerable to collapse.

The Birmingham News included a recent story recommending that people consider wearing a bike helmet, placing children in infant car seats, putting on sturdy shoes or boots and covering themselves with a heavy quilt or coat for extra protection from shards of glass, splinters and other airborne objects.

If you're in a mobile home, get out and seek safe shelter elsewhere.

While the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says the average lead time for tornado warnings is 13 minutes, it's still not recommended that you try escaping a tornado in a vehicle, unless the absence of traffic and availability of road options allow you to move quickly at right angles relative to the tornado's path.

"People need to take respsonsibility for their safety," Smith said. "Trust the warnings. You might spend some time in a shelter unnecessarily on occasion, but the tornado warnings have become good enough that they need to be taken seriously."

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